Skip to main content

Raise your hand if you were watching ESPN+ on Thursday for the English Football League One playoff semifinal between Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough. Precious few Americans’ hands will rise as a playoff game in England’s third division of professional soccer isn’t a big ratings-grabber here in the States (or anywhere, for that matter). That’s too bad, though, because you missed what might be the greatest comeback in playoff history in all of sports.

Sheffield Wednesday pulled off a playoff comeback for the ages

Sheffield Wednesday is an English football team (with a great name) that plays in Football League One, the third division of the country’s professional soccer system.

This is akin to Double-A baseball, with the major difference being the third- through sixth-place finishers in the league play in a playoff at the end of the season. The winning team then gets to move up to the second division, the Championship, which is one step below the famed Premier League.

These playoffs are two-leg affairs, with the aggregate (total) score of the two matches determining the winner. If the teams are tied after the two games, it goes to penalties.

In the first match of the (3) Sheffield Wednesday vs. (6) Peterborough playoff was in Peterborough, about 75 miles north of London. In that contest, the home underdogs laid it on the favorites 4-0. That should have essentially ended the series.

However, when the series shifted to Sheffield, a town about 30 miles east of Manchester, the home team had other ideas.

Michael Smith converted a penalty in the 9th minute, and Lee Gregory scored a goal in the run of play in the 25th. That put the home team in the dressing room at halftime down two goals on aggregate and with some belief.  

When left-back Reece James, on loan from Blackpool, scored his first Sheffield Wednesday goal in the 71st minute, the comeback was officially on.

Liam Palmer scores Sheffield Wednesday’s fourth eight minutes into (supposedly) six minutes of stoppage time to tie the series at four goals apiece, and that’s when things started getting really dramatic.

Sheffield gave one back on an own goal in extra time before scoring in the 112th of 120 minutes to get back to 5-5 on aggregate.

In the end, Sheffield Wednesday converted five penalties to Peterborough’s three, completing the biggest comeback in EFL playoff history.  

The winners now move on to face the winners of (5) Bolton vs. (4) Barnsley (1-1 on aggregate) to fight for promotion.

The greatest comebacks in playoff history

greatest comeback playoff history, biggest comeback playoff history, Sheffield Wednesday
Michael Smith celebrates Sheffield Wednesday’s playoff comeback win | Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

The Sheffield Wednesday win was the biggest comeback in playoff history for English football, but where does it rank among the greatest playoff comebacks of all time?

For North American sports, here are the biggest playoff comebacks of all time.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers: 31 points vs. Golden State Warriors (2019 Round 1, Game 2)

The 8-seed Clippers went down 73-50 at the half of Game 2 and were losing by as many as 31 early in the third quarter. Doc Rivers’ Clippers outscored the Warriors 85-58 in the second half, though, with Lou Williams dropping 29 in the half and Montrezel Harrell and Danilo Galliniari both adding 17. Despite the epic comeback, the Warriors would win the series but lose to the Toronto Raptors in the Finals.

NFL: Buffalo Bills: 32 points vs. Houston Oilers (1993 Wild Card Round)

With backup QB Frank Reich starting in place of the injured Jim Kelly, the Bills quickly fell behind 35-3 following a pick-six to start the second half. However, Reich, who also led the biggest comeback in college football history (31 points) at Maryland, led the Bills to a 38-38 tie at the end of regulation before a Steve Christie 32-yard field goal won the game in overtime. The Bills would go on to make (and lose) their third of four consecutive Super Bowls.

MLB: Philadelphia A’s: eight runs vs. Chicago Cubs (1929 World Series, Game 4)

The A’s were up 2-1 in the series but went down 8-0 in the 7th inning to the Cubs. In that fateful inning, the A’s finally chased starter Charlie Root and went onto a 10-run inning, including a Mule Haas three-run, inside-the-park home run against reliever Art Nehf. Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove came in for the save, and the A’s won the series in Game 5.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings: five goals vs. Edmonton Oilers (1982 Round 1, Game 3)

Known as the “Miracle on Manchester” (Boulevard, where the Kings arena was located), the home team went down 5-0 through the first two periods to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and the Oilers. The Kings roared back with five goals in the third period and won the game 6-5 in overtime, ultimately eliminating the Oilers 3-2. However, Edmonton would go on to win five of the next eight Staley Cups.

Where Sheffield Wednesday ranks on this list of the greatest comebacks in NFL history is up for debate. But the two-legged nature of the playoffs in England, the promotion stakes, and the (usually) low-scoring game itself has to put it pretty high up on this list.